President Donald Trump spent the campaign and his first weeks in office boasting about his plans to help victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. He talked it up in his speech to a joint session of Congress as one of his signature initiatives.
The office would be a massively important undertaking, he said, and it would help people the Obama administration ignored out of political correctness.
On Wednesday, Homeland Security Sec. John Kelly announced that office has been set up. And so far, it’s…underwhelming. The office doesn’t have a budget, it uses Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff who already work there, and the only new thing is a toll-free hotline victims can call. And that hotline, officials noted, will be available for undocumented immigrants who are themselves victims of crime, since people who call in won’t get asked about their immigration status.
It’s another way Trump’s first 100 day accomplishments are largely rhetorical.
At the opening of the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office on Wednesday morning at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s imposing headquarters in southwest D.C, Sec. Kelly emphasized it was to help victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.
“They’re casualties of crimes that should never have taken place because the people who victimized them should never have been here in our country,” he said.
But after Kelly’s remarks, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials noted something a little curious: People who “should never have been here” should also feel free to call the office, since the office won’t ask people who call in whether or not they’re undocumented.
Whether or not undocumented victims will feel comfortable calling ICE for help remains to be seen; after all, ICE is responsible for tracking down and deporting undocumented immigrants. But the officials insisted they shouldn’t be hesitant to call for help if they need it.
The office will let victims sign up to get automatic email, text, or phone updates about the status of their perpetrators (alleged or convicted) in the immigrant detention system and receive alerts when perpetrators are moved between detention centers and deported. ICE officials said there are already about 400 victims who get this information, but they get it manually, not automatically.
This parallels offices run by the Justice Department and state governments for victims who want to know what prison their attackers are in and when they will get out.
An official said they haven’t discussed if there will be penalties for people who sign up for system updates and lie about being victims. To get information on an alleged perpetrator, you just need to know his or her full name and country of birth. Kelly added the system is not for “curious reporters.”
Officials said the office will also help gather data on crimes committed by immigrants for quarterly reports the Trump administration has promised to release. Those reports haven’t started coming out yet, and they’ve generated pointed criticism from immigrants’ advocates, who say they stigmatize immigrants and could put them in danger.
“What if I created a division of the Justice Department just to collect stories of people who had been brutally murdered by folks with bad toupees?” Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman told The Daily Beast when Trump boasted about plans for the office at his first speech to a joint session of Congress. “Would that be fair to our president?”
A report from The Sentencing Project recently found that commit less crime than people born in the U.S. and are less likely to be in prison.
DHS quickly aborted a separate effort to release weekly reports on crimes related to so-called “sanctuary cities” when it turned out the first report appeared to be riddled with errors. DHS officials who spoke to reporters said they didn’t know when those reports would start coming out or what information would be in them.
The idea for the VOICE office appears to have come from an immigration restrictionist group called the Center for Immigration Studies. The group pushed for a special office to advocate for “victims hurt by illegal alien criminals” in a list of immigration policy ideas it published on April 11, 2016.
But it might not matter how effective the office is, since its mere creation has left Trump’s backers pleased. Maria Espinoza, who started The Remembrance Project for families of people murdered by undocumented immigrants, was on hand for the VOICE office announcement. Espinoza, who spoke at a Trump rally in Anaheim, Ca., told The Daily Beast Trump was the only candidate who promised her group during the campaign he would make an office like this.
“This is a blessing,” she said. “He is delivering on campaign promises he made to the people and I just wish that he was not obstructed at every turn.”